The Core Conundrum

Discussion in 'Fitness Health and Exercise' started by Justin, 28 July 2009 Social URL.

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  1. Justin

    Justin Banned

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    I think its time to fully address that little subject that we all really want to know about - getting a great midsection.

    I've tried to stray away from going into too much detail over core exercises, and with good reason. Here's the thing:

    As I've said in the past, total body exercises such as squats and press-ups will burn more calories than virtually any core exercises, so if fat loss is the primary goal and you only have 3-4 hours per week to exercise (as 90% of people I see do) then you need to MAXIMISE results in MINIMAL time. Therefore, if TBT exercises burn more fat than core exercises, then obviously you're better off performing 6 total body exercises in a workout, rather than 4 total body exercises and 2 core exercises.

    However, exercises and workouts become highly emotional for many (if not all) of us. We become 'attatched' to certain exercises, which become little rituals, or attatched to programs, which eventually become ineffective habits, and its often hard to let go of tradition and try something new.

    Its for those reasons I believe that no matter how much I preach about the benefits of focussing on TBT, people always want to slot those couple of ab exercises in at the end. Its emotional more than logical.

    Now personally, my system is to have my clients master the TBT exercises first, with a wholesome focus, and when they are ready THEN we add directed core exercise.

    Its akin to baking a cake. You have to build the foundation first, before adding the icing. Core exercise is just that - the icing on the cake. You won't see any ab development until you near the 15% bodyfat range anyhow, so trying to build muscle which is under a layer of fat is pretty pointless right? The best method is to focus on burning the fat first, then bring up the core.

    BUT, like I said, its an emotional thing to want to perform core exercises anyway, so sometimes I'll give in and prescribe a few exercises anyway.

    I look at it this way: if someone is going to perform ab exercises whether I advise them to or not, I may aswell make sure they're going to do the BEST exercises and not waste their time.

    (By the way, if you think this is directed at women only, you're mistaken. Guys are JUST as guilty. Right, Mister "I'd better throw a few bicep curls in at the end of every workout!"?):p

    Okay, so if we're going to spend time on the core, its best to know what to do, and more importantly, why we are doing it this way.

    The first myth, as some of you may have guessed my stance on, is the infamous abdominal crunch. Does it work? Is it good for your abs? Is it bad for your back? etc.

    It doesn't matter. The fact is its an exercise that will not strengthen your core, and it won't burn calories. I'll repeat that once more:

    1. It does NOT improve your core strength

    2. It does NOT burn many calories. At all.

    It is ineffective, therefore it is worthless. Besides, what type of daily movement requires you to raise your shoulders whilst keeping your knees crossed in the air or feet flat on the floor??

    The above notion is based on the fact that scientists (a loooong time ago) came to the conclusion that the function of the rectus abdominis was flexion, moving the ribcage toward the hips, so therefore the abdominals should be trained in this way.

    But thats missing the forest for the trees. Lets look at the whole picture:

    From this picture: you can see the muscles of the Internal / External obliques, Transverse Abdominis, and of course the Rectus (6-pack) abdominis muscle (yes, your 6 pack is really ONE muscle, just shaped like a washboard).

    If you look closely you'll see the muscle striations (the lines the fibres run) are different for each of the above main core muscle groups. The Internal and External obliques run diagonally in different directions, the TA runs horizontally, and the RA runs vertically.

    This is important to note, because muscles work in the directions of these fibres. For instance, the fibres of your arm muscles all run down from your shoulders to your wrists, hence why your arm bends along that line.

    But the core is akin to a bundle of wool. Now from a scientific standpoint, this tells me that if the fibres are crossed in many directions, then the function of the core isn't necessarily to move in different ways, but the function is actually to prevent movement. Just keep thinking of the core as that bundle of wool all wrapped up in a ball.

    And funnily enough, we have the recent emergence of core 'stability', exercises such as the plank that work the core, but without forcing it to move.

    If I haven't convinced you enough at this point (or if I've just lost you among the science talk!) lets take one more example of athletes who have the best abs in the world, bar none - gymnasts.

    Here's some examples:Yahoo! Image Search Results for gymnast abs

    To my knowledge, gymnasts perform no crunches or side bends in their training, they just move their body around, while forcing their core to remain still. They are generating force through the core in order to prevent movement. This should be a lesson to us all. The exercises I will identify here will place similar demands on your core as to that of a gymnasts training.

    So, here's a little core workout you can have a go at:

    1. Sledgehammers: 30 seconds
    (Hold a heavy medball, kettlebell or dumbbell out in front with both hands. Squat down with a flat back, and swing the weight down between your legs and then straight up above your head as you extend your legs. You can also move the weight diagonally to make this into a Woodchop exercise.)

    2. Press Ups with Feet on Swiss Ball: 30 seconds

    3. Dumbbell Floor Pulls: 30 seconds
    (Go into a press up position, but holding two dumbbells or small kettlebells to the floor. Keep your core rigid and row one arm up at a time. You may need to try this without added weights first.)

    4. Swiss Ball Alternating Step Offs: 30 seconds
    (In a press up position, with toes up on a swiss ball, legs straight. Slowly step one leg down to the floor, to the side of the ball, then bring it back up. Repeat with the other leg, while keeping your body and core rigid as possible)

    5. Plank: 60 seconds
    (Keep your knees on the ground if you can't perform the full version. Each time you try it, move your knees a couple of inches back and eventually you will be up on your toes. Then just hold it as long as you can and aim to add a few seconds on each workout)

    Reapeat this circuit a few times and let me know what you think. Just remember with these exercises that the aim is to create movement with your limbs, whilst preventing movement in your core.

    As a result, your core will be stonger, it will function better, you will burn more calories, and best of all your ab exericses are no longer boring!

    howdy-doody and amm451 like this.
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  3. tryer

    tryer Silver Member

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    it's nice to have an explanation, and this to me sums it all up " the aim is to create movement with your limbs, whilst preventing movement in your core"

    one word

  4. judimac

    judimac Mad old Bat with Attitude

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    I may just have to have one of those images as my screensaver! You've made an old woman very happy! ;)
  5. howdy-doody

    howdy-doody Eloquent hooligan

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    Many thanks Justin - I'll give those a whirl :)

    I have a fat belly & sides / back so have been trying to force myself to concentrate on 'core' (I've always been broad chested / big arms so lazily over the years my workouts concentrated around what came naturally... upper body work).
  6. Laura Croft

    Laura Croft Happily maintaining

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    Healthy eating, was CD
    *thud* Okay I know you are a very experienced trainer

    But seriously WTF? I am a triathlete myself (well I am normally!) and having good core muscles is such an important element of preventing injuries.

    I used to have incredibly weak core muscles and had numerous injuries as a result. After improving my core muscles, my injuries went away. As simple as that, and I know a whole lot of people that have been through the same.

    While I agree with you core muscles aren't about fat loss, surely the name of them i.e core muscles shows just how important they are to our daily movement.

    I also agree just doing sit ups isn't enough as there are a lot of other muscles that also need to be exercised.

    However, these are just some of the things I know they can improve:

    1. Balance
    2. Posture
    3. Helps prevent injury
    4. Performance in general. All physical activity involves using these muscles - how can the muscles not be important!

    I really believe what you've written here could be totally misconstrued. The importance of core muscles can NOT be underrated!! I don't know a physio, a personal trainer or an athlete that says the core muscles should be last to be sorted out. I'm pretty staggered by that to be honest.

    To anyone interested in looking for good core muscles, here is a good link. Be warned some of them are very advanced so go slow.

    Strengthening the Core - Rice Fitness Center

    Taken directly from above site:

    The Core

    What are the core muscle groups?
    Many people believe that the core includes only the abdominals; however, this is not true. The core consists of the abdominals (rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, internal and external obliques), the muscles of the hips, buttocks, inner thighs, and back.
    Why is core strength so important?
    These muscles help to hold the torso in alignment. Core- strengthening exercises often relieve various aches and pains, due to weak muscles and poor posture. They also help to improve balance and torso stability needed for peak sport performance. Strengthening your core will allow your body to efficiently transfer force from the lower to the upper body and back again, thus ensuring that no exerted force is wasted through unneeded movements
    Last edited: 16 August 2009
  7. Justin

    Justin Banned

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    Okay, I appreciate the response, and I can see where you're coming from.

    I'll sum this one up real quick though....

    Basic exercises such as deadlifts and squats activate your core tremendously. some of the top strength coaches in the world even say that when performing such exercises, their athletes (most of which are Olympians) don't even NEED direct core work.

    Im not entirely sure I agree with that, but the point is that it goes to show how much core activation the main TBT exercises give you.

    (For a more visual example of this, look through the paragraphs and what you wrote yourself in your post - an exercise such as a squat develops pretty much all the qualities you recommended.)
  8. Laura Croft

    Laura Croft Happily maintaining

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    Healthy eating, was CD
    Fair enough but, and I mean this nicely MMers, I'd hazard a guess that a lot of MMers don't have strong core muscles unless they were quite heavy into athletics before and have kept that training up. They'd be more stereotypically like I was, had been overweight, lost the weight through running, some weights and eating well but still my core muscles were so much weaker. As a result, injury after injury. Fixed the muscles, had some physio and got sorted.

    Now I've got the core muscles back doing basically what they should (with still much room for improvement), I'm back to dealing with the weight stuff!
  9. Justin

    Justin Banned

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    Again, I do see your point. Im on the same side as you, really.

    All clients of mine do start using plank and side plank variations at the start of each session. Core stability and strength is indeed absolutely important in all populations.

    I think you've misunderstood my original message, whihc is this:

    People want to perform all different 'ab' exercises in order to see a six-pack. I dont bother with this because crunches dont really work and instead as much core exercise without movement should be performed instead.

    So I do perform 'core' exercise, almost every session, but its NOT core exercise for aesthetic purposes. Core exercise for visual purposes should be included after a Total-Body approach has been taken.

    Am I making sense? Sorry if this sounds confusing.
  10. Laura Croft

    Laura Croft Happily maintaining

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    Healthy eating, was CD
    Okay. With your added explanation, now I see your point of your first entry and I hope you've also seen how things could be misunderstood.
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